Category Archives: Fear

Keep your eye on the (base) ball…

Image result for baseball field

The first job I ever had – I mean genuine, real job, where they wrote you a paycheck and didn’t just give you the money they had in their pocket – was lining baseball fields.

And it taught me a lesson I remember until this day.

I got the job in the summer of ’78, when I was 14. Up until then I’d cut apricots, mowed lawns, washed cars and shined shoes (unshined them is more like it) but the summer of my 14th year I decided I was old enough to go find me a big boy job.

I don’t recall how I thought of it, but at some point in my search I went to the Parks & Rec Department in my little town to see if they had any jobs I could do. It turns out they did. The guy who’d painted the lines on the baseball fields in town had quit, and they needed someone to take his place. I filled out an application, talked to some lady with a title like “assistant director” and a few days later received a call saying I got the job. A little confession here: no small part of this lucky turn had to do with, to the question “have you ever lined baseball fields before?” I answered “Yes, of course I have.”

A more truthful answer would have been “No, no I have never done anything even remotely close to drawing thick, straight, chalk lines all over a baseball diamond”, but somehow I wasn’t quite able to write that one down on the application.

The fields were situated all over town, so on my first day, because I was a kid still 2 years away from getting his license, Dad drove me (every time after that he handed me the keys to the old truck and said “Keep to the backroads”). And that first day went pretty badly. The next few days after that weren’t much better. Turns out I was terrible at drawing lines on baseball fields.

The wheels on the ‘line chalking’ contraption that you used to do the job were out-of-round, and hard to push in a straight line. And the lines that were already there (that I thought I’d just follow to make new lines) were pretty much obliterated by previous games. It seemed like the harder I tried, the worse I did. I even started to go really slow, taking twice as long, in my effort to carefully create the thick, straight lines I’d need to keep my job.

I was getting angry with myself, and embarrassed too. I didn’t know what to do. And with no youtube how-to videos for help, and no one I knew who’d done this sort of thing to ask, I felt alone. Really alone.

So one evening, about a week in, I sat down on the side of a field and decided to spend some time thinking rather than working. I started it with toughts of quitting. I hate to admit it, but when I begin doubting myself an early instinct I have is, just cut and run. But then I felt even more embarrassed, like really, I can’t figure this out?

So I figured it out.

Here’s what I came up with: my solution to the wavering, crooked lines I was drawing had been to go slower – to be careful. And then I’d go slower yet, and be even more careful. I was watching the line as I drew it, trying to match what was there before. But the slower I went, and the more closely I watch the line in front of me, the worse I did and the more frustrated I got. So I thought “The hell with it – I’m not going look at what I’m doing, I’m going to look at where I’m going”. Instead of trying to match a blurry, messy, disappearing line I started looking at the bases I was drawing my lines to. And when I did a weird thing happened – I started to speed up. I would just look straight toward first base, and quickly walk to it. Then I’d do the same with second, and so on. All of a sudden the job was taking half the time it used to.

And the lines were almost dead straight.

After that I started hearing from the assistant director lady that the players loved how the fields looked. The lines had never been so straight. And I felt proud.

Lesson? Don’t worry too much about where you’re at, just keep your eye on where you’re going to…

 

 

 

 

 

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John Martle isn’t Dead

fear

I was an impressionable kid.

I suppose we all were, in our way. I think by definition being young means you’re looking for direction – first from your parents – and then from others… Continue reading

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Don’t Shoot

If you’ve read my column before you probably know that I spent chunks of my childhood in Ireland, where my family is from.

My parents would make the arrangements for my summer trips: where I’d stay, with whom, and for how long — and then take me up to SFO to board an Aer Lingus jet for the long flight to their homeland. Even though pretty young at the time (10 or 14 — or in there somewhere) I’d make the trip alone because, well, that’s what they could afford. But I wouldn’t really be alone. Back in those days you could pull aside a flight attendant and ask her to look after your kid, and she would. Or, she would as well as she was able between making coffee and bringing all the food they used to serve on airplanes to the throngs of hungry/thirsty/needy passengers.

On some flights I’d have an attendant checking on me every hour or two. And on some flights I’d actually have someone my parents knew, or maybe a friend of a friend, who happened to be going back for their summer in Ireland, who could watch over me. It was usually easier when I was actually with someone, especially when we got to New York, where sometimes I’d have to change planes.

But however the trip went, I always loved the part where we broke through the clouds over Ireland and there were green fields as far as the eye could see. It was both weird and wonderful, being from California, to see long green grass growing in the summer time, and it served as a reminder that I was travelling to a very different place that was sort of like a fairy-tale. People there spoke much differently than I did, and the steering wheels were all on the wrong side of the car, and there were donkeys on the roads and roofs made of thatch. It was sort of like being in Oz, only it was all the Emerald City. Continue reading

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Secret Life of Boys

When I was little I traveled to Ireland every few years or so.
My parents are from Ireland and took me and my brother and sisters back there during summers to stay with our grandparents. One morning, at Grandma Tierney’s house in Tipperary, my brother Brian and I decided to head down the fields in search of adventure. At the time I would have been about 12 and Brian maybe 10 or so. Continue reading

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I Was Afraid to Write this Column

The kids in the neighborhood I grew up in had a certain fearlessness about them.

Well most of them did – there was this one kid named Shawn Reilly who seemed to be afraid of everything. And because fear was such a big part of his daily life it kind of set him apart from the other kids. In fact even now when I think about the kids in the old neighborhood his face doesn’t always pop up. He was a bit player. Sort of like a lesser character in a favorite movie of yours – you don’t always remember right away that he was even in it. Continue reading

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